Krivoklat – Jacek Dehnel

I read this book a while ago, before the #20booksofsummer craze and yet I couldn’t get round to reviewing it. I actually think I’ll read it again, as soon as the autumn comes, it is a bit more of a autumn book.

Our narrator, Krivoklat, is definitely unreliable, he is a patient in a mental institution called Medical Center Castle Immendorf in Austria. What brought him here, not for the first time, is his attempt to pour acid over a painting, a masterpiece. Krivoklat has been very consistently attempting to do this all his life, as he’s willing to share with us. He approaches his topic with utmost seriousness, mulling over the technique of pouring or spraying acid, over the process of selecting the masterpiece and many factors that go into that and while doing this also revealing to us the story of his life and his mission.

It is of course obvious that this is not a book about Krivoklat and that it is a pastiche, but that does not take the fun away. Krivoklat attacks Austrian society with passion, accusing the education system and upbringing of killing hearts, minds and any sensitivity to art. Krivoklat wants to destroy art to protect it, to protect what he loves most, what he believes is the only thing that can save the world and the thing that brings him down over and over again.

The social observations are of course exaggerated and yet in their core they hold true not specifically regarding Austrian society, but definitely regarding the western culture. We do seem so obsessed with money, with being up to date, with all the intermediaries that get between us and art (photos, cameras, audio guides, other people) that we’re less and less capable of spending 10 minutes just seeing the painting, at least I know I am and I was supposed to be doing it for living. We rush, we’re superficial, we want to be liked so we follow trends blindly, assuming that if everyone likes something it must be good, not thinking critically and not suspecting that possibly, just possibly, everyone else has just made the same assumption we did.

This book is a pastiche, it is funny in its crazy way, but it is also a brutal accusation aimed at the way we live, just as it is a passionate love letter to art and its power. I’m pretty sure this is not a thought crossing people’s mind often, but maybe it is in art that we can find our peace and the transcendence so often lacking in the sea of likes, posts, phones and meditation apps. It certainly got me thinking, reminded me that I used to believe in art, that it can transcend our singular life and give us a glimpse of more, it can help us reach for more. It did also get me thinking why I go to museums less recently and it is because of the crowds, every single exhibition that I’ve been to over the last year has been partially spoiled by the sheer impossibility of seeing the paintings and focusing on them, going through exhibitions in London often feels a bit like going through a check list – seen, check, next one. I think the last time I managed to focus on the art I was seeing was in Margate in Turner Contemporary (and I don’t even like contemporary art that much) because it was not mobbed with people and I was able to sit and watch one piece for 10 min.

It doesn’t hurt that the book is beautifully written, rich flowing prose, every word exactly where it should be to evoke the slightly crazy, but also very intimate atmosphere. It got me thinking and I am definitely going back to it. Luckily I also got two other books by Dehnel from my dear mom, so I have more fun to look forward too.

Do you think art has a place in our lives? What was your best visit to art museum?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

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